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Hiding In Plain Sight

Among New Orleans’s more elegant and enigmatic homes is the Luling Mansion on Esplanade Ridge. Completed in 1865, the last year of the Civil War, and deeply touched by tragedy, it emanates mystery in a city celebrated for ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. Stashed on Leda Court, a half block off busy Esplanade Avenue, the house is easily missed unless you’re looking for it. This was hardly the case in its mid-nineteenth century heyday when it was showcased on eighty acres alongside Bayou St. John. Designed by legendary New Orleans architect James Gallier, Jr. for Florence Luling, a wealthy German cotton merchant, the plastered brick structure was three-and-a half stories of Italianate opulence taking two years to build. It topped a...

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The Siren Call

Natchez’s celebrated treasure trove of antebellum architecture, unlike that of most historic Southern cities, was largely built by a society seeking to be, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “rich together.” Imitating the English gentry who maintained townhouses as well as country homes, the region’s phenomenally wealthy cotton barons escaped the ennui of rural plantation life via city homes where they could socialize with their peers. Sometimes modest, usually grandiose, these houses bloomed in the heart of Natchez and in park-like settings, some as large as eighty acres, on the outskirts of town. Arguably the oldest surviving “suburban villa,” as the style came to be known, is Gloucester. Its most famous occupant–and a highly unlikely candidate for the...

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Voyage Into History

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Robert Smalls (1839-1915), a man of uncommon courage who, with one bold move, altered his destiny and changed American history. Born a slave in Beaufort, SC, Smalls was greatly favored by his white owner, John McKee, who may also have been his father. Concerned that the carefree youth was being shielded from the realities of the slave world, his mother Lydia, a house servant, made certain he saw field hands toiling in the cotton fields.  Smalls was so horrified and outraged that his mother averted trouble by convincing McKee to send the twelve-year-old to work in Charleston. Hired as a lamplighter in the bustling port city, Smalls was fascinated by the waterfront and quickly developed a love for the sea. As an...

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